After our long night drive we stopped in the town of New Plymouth for some wifi, coffee, delicious muffins and unfortunately a parking ticket. Apparently $4 for parking didn’t buy you a lot of time in this “bustling” downtown of New Plymouth. I’d thought about trying to summit another volcano, Mount Taranaki, but the weather was heavy blowing rain. Waiting here for a couple days for a clear summit bid wasn’t nearly as a high priority since we’d already summitted Mount Doom.
A couple hours south, the rain let up right as we hit the southern coast of the eastern edge of the north island…. WEST! Just outside of Hawera, we found a great little campground right next to the ocean. At high tide the ocean met with the cliffs but low tide revealed a stunning black sand beach, great to look at and silty smooth to the touch. The waves just out from the boat launch/end of the road were great for swimming – big enough to kick my ass but not big enough to have to worry about drowning. The slope of the beach into the water was gentle enough to allow you to stand almost as far out as the breaking waves, then made you take the extra effort to swim out beyond the break. While I swam in the morning, McKayla enjoyed a nice run along the beach, stopping from time to time to take in the long strand of black and green sandstone cliffs lining the beach. The further you got down the beach, the more cliffs would show themselves, seemingly endless sets of beautiful cliffs lining the ocean. McKayla managed to find one of these sets of cliffs containing a towering waterfall paying its small tribute to the Pacific. This was easily my favorite campground so far (Ohawe Beach Camp) – good swimming, a nice owner, a clean kitchen and a good supply of games like Sea Battle (Battleship), Line-up 4 (connect 4) and Who’s This (Guess Who). I made us some long forgotten cuisine, I believe they call it a burger, and we enjoyed a glass of wine while watching the sunset and playing a few rounds of Sea Battle.
Saturday we had another long drive through the heart of the southern central part of the north island. We only made a brief stop for supplies on our way to Cape Palliser. There was another complimentory campground across from the tiny town of Ngawi right along the ocean. There was even a spot left next to a picnic table, jackpot. The Jucy rental company was supposed to include folding chairs and a table but in our dash to get on the road, they (and I) forgot about them. Instead, we picked up two of the smallest folding chairs imaginable at the used camping store. Any smaller and they could not be classified as chairs. While, they work well with our cooler-table, when possible a picnic table or campground kitchen is definitely preferable. The picnic table kept on giving, more people flocked to this lonely picnic table and we had the chance to share a meal with some new friends, an English guy and a Dutch couple. Soon the five of us were enjoying one of the greatest sunsets I’d ever had the privelidge to take in. Our sunset view was enhanced by the distant view of the South Island mountains. It was just stunning.
The plan for Sunday was straight forward. We would find fur seals and climb to the top of the nearby lighthouse. We didn’t have to drive 10 minutes from our campsite before we found the outskirts of the seal colony. Fur seals are even cuter than their name suggests. These guys seemed to have it pretty good – play in the surf and grab some food then grab a spot on a rock and take a nap. The hardest part of their day seemed to be the short commute from water to rock and back again. They had to perform a series of awkward contortions just to move a few feet on land. But as soon as they were in the water, they gracefully spun around diving in and out of the kelp, assumingly, in their search for lunch. The seals dotted the rocky coast line for nearly a mile. Their ‘nursery’ seemed to be set up in a shallow, calm portion of an inlet. Here, the pups outnumbered the adults 5 to 1 and their slow, loud, awkward movements were enough to keep ‘the babysitters’ chasing them (or at least letting out a loud occataional bark, calling out to keep the little ones in line). Seal watching was much more entertaining than I gave it credit for, really an interesting group of mammals.
The candy cane painted lighthouse gave us a good short climb and an outstretched view of the surrounding coastline. We returned to our peaceful seaside campground to find neighbors parking nearly on top of us. Thankfully they partied at their friends’ camper van across the way rather than directly on top of us. What was a picnic table with three tents around it Saturday, was now a picnic table with a camper bumper pressed up against it and three more campers squished on either side of the tent that used to be our neighbors. The sunset was slightly less spectacular than the night before but still pretty amazing. We tried to get a good night rest so we could wake up early and hike another area known as the Pinnacles (We’d hiked one with the same name in Coromandel) then get the maximum amount of time out of the hotel room we were planning to splurge on in Wellington before taking our ferry to the South Island.
These Pinnacles were an otherworldly (middle earthly at least) arrangement of spires tucked into a canyon just off the coast, no more than a half hour drive west from Cape Palliser. A poorly marked hour long walk up a streambed led us to the Pinnacles. There was an option to get an overlook of the unique rockscape but we opted for the up close and personal route that took you right under these massive, surely unstable spires. They seemed to consist entirely of large and small rocks held together somehow by sand. Not the most reassuring structures to be squeezing your way through. Especially considering, somehow these spires were so closely knit together they formed a variable maze; each space tighter, quieter and more eerie than the last. You could see large boulders protruding from the spires with an impossibly small amount of themselves still wedged into the thin sand. We just hoped our voices and movements weren’t the last little vibration they needed to be set free. It was all the creepier that we were the first and only ones in the area for the day, but it really let us get the best experience of being alone amongst stone giants doomed eventually to their destruction by gravity (or one of the several earthquakes that seem to hit New Zealand fairly regularly). They reminded me a lot of the Hoodoos in Bryce Canyon without the red rock, and the seeming lack of any stability.